End of Treatment

April 15, 1996, I woke up with so many emotions. I was excited because today was my last day of chemo, a day I had been looking forward to for two and a half years but I was also fearful. Would my cancer come back if I stopped chemo? My safety net was being taken from me. I was always told leukemia cells like to hide, so were some hiding and waiting for the chemo to stop? I was sad because, for over two years, I made weekly trips to Children’s Hospital. My nurses and doctors became my family and now I wouldn’t be seeing my ‘hospital’ family so much. I was now only going to have to come to clinic once a month for blood work and over time that would move to every three months, six months, and finally just annual visits.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I am one of the lucky ones. My children’s hospital had a Survivorship Clinic that focused on the needs of those ending treatment and beyond. I was given a detailed list of all the medications and doses I had received. I was told what I was at risk for as I aged. Cardiac issues, thyroid issues, osteoporosis, brain tumors, skin cancer, and depression to name a few. I was given a list of tests I would need for the rest of my life. I knew this day was coming but I still wasn’t ready for it. I wasn’t ready for the fact that EKGs/Echocardiograms, bone density, MRIs, and blood work would forever be a part of my life. I wasn’t ready to think about the possibility of late effects or secondary cancers and luckily for me, I didn’t have to for many years.

I left the hospital that day with the same hope I had the day I learned I had leukemia. I hoped and prayed that the chemo and radiation worked, and that I would remain cancer free. I didn’t have anything planned that night to celebrate this milestone, probably because it was a Monday night but much to my surprise the doorbell rang and there stood the boy I had a crush on all through grade school. He stood there with a peach rose. He came to say congratulations! He came to celebrate this milestone with me! We hung out for a few hours and eventually said goodbye. He reminded me that today was a day to be excited, to celebrate all that I had been through.

Childhood cancer is survivable but at what cost? So many people say treatment is over you can be normal now. But after two and a half years of battling leukemia, I didn’t know what normal was. While my peers were experiencing all the joys being a teenager brings, I was just doing what I could to survive. By the time I finished treatment, I was at the end of my sophomore year in high school. I didn’t know where I fit in. By that time, clicks were already formed, clubs were established and I already felt like an outsider, so thinking about joining a club was too much for me. So, I did what I could, I just took one day at a time.

I thought things would get better after high school, but I was wrong. College was just as hard. During your freshman year, people make friends based on what they did during high school. You talk about the sports you played, plays you were in, or clubs you belong to. I didn’t do any of that, I survived cancer. Again, I felt like an outsider.

Part of the problem was cancer made me grow up so fast, I had a deep understanding of life at such a young age, but I also felt as if socially cancer held me back. I could easily talk with people who were older and younger than me, but if you were my peer I didn’t know what to say. It wasn’t until my early 30s were I finally felt as if I caught up with my peers. Where I finally had something in common with them.

Cancer will always be a part of my life, it doesn’t define me, but it did help me become the person I am today.  Some people have asked if I could go back in time would I change the fact I had cancer. The answer has always been no. Cancer taught me to see the world differently. I know miracles happen, prayers work, and God works in mysterious ways. I understand that life is short, and we shouldn’t take things for granted.  We only live each day once, so make the best of it.

Live Life, Love Life and Cherish Every Moment

Sophomore Year – my hair was growing back!

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